Friday 28 July 2017

10 snapshots from the hurling league that catch the eye

Shane Bennett celebrates after team-mate Tom Devine scored Waterford's second goal against Clare on Sunday. Waterford scored just one goal from five matches in the group stages of last year’s league but, in this campaign, they have increased that tally six-fold. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Shane Bennett celebrates after team-mate Tom Devine scored Waterford's second goal against Clare on Sunday. Waterford scored just one goal from five matches in the group stages of last year’s league but, in this campaign, they have increased that tally six-fold. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

From new Cats gatekeeper to a Deise goal surge - what stood out

Kilkenny cultivate sacred ground

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody has always regarded full-back as the most specialist position - he rarely tampers with it and is willing to make big sacrifices to ensure authority there.

Thus JJ Delaney, one of the game's greatest wing-backs, was seconded there when Noel Hickey was absent and then departed, and now Padraig Walsh is following a similar path, away from his more natural prairies at wing-back, to fill a void that was glaring in last year's All-Ireland final.

Tipperary's inside trio took their markers for 2-15 from play that day which commanded urgency in the off-season.

Walsh has played all five League games at full-back and hasn't looked out of sorts. Conor O'Shea has been to one side for the five, Paul Murphy restored to the other corner for the last three, none of which the Cats lost. It's a work in progress but it is coming along quite nicely.

Davy's stock rises

It took Mick O'Dwyer to head off on his travels into Leinster before he was really appreciated for the great manager that he was. One thing to land so many All-Ireland titles with some of the best footballers ever but another entirely to achieve tangible success in counties where it has been absent for so long.

Pádraig Walsh (right) has played all five League games at full-back and hasn’t looked out of sorts. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Pádraig Walsh (right) has played all five League games at full-back and hasn’t looked out of sorts. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

We're not comparing Micko to Davy Fitzgerald by any stretch but what this league has underlined is how Davy can make an instant impact with a team - an All-Ireland final appearance within months in Waterford, an All-Ireland title within two years in Clare and now promotion from Division 1B where Wexford had been stuck for five years, winning just 12 of their 25 games and failing to beat any team of real substance. That's progress.

Goals flow for Deise

Waterford scored just one goal from five matches in the group stages of last year's league but, in this campaign, they have increased that tally six-fold. It hasn't been a conscious effort but with the Bennett brothers and Patrick Curran they have to be that bit more expansive.

Cork plug the leaks

The concession of 3-16 against Tipp was out of sync with the parsimony of the Cork defence up to last weekend but they still finish the group stages with the third best defensive record of the top six teams, coughing up 7-81, a significant improvement on the 9-118 scored against them last year, the highest total since the six-team division was brought in.

Ruthless Ryan

He has the players to do it so Tipp manager Michael Ryan hasn't stood on ceremony when it has come to making early changes. In three of their five games Ryan has made tactical decisions to take out players before half-time, Seamus Kennedy against Clare, Aidan McCormack against Waterford and Michael Breen against Kilkenny al making way.

Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Structural change required again?

Perhaps it was frustration but Limerick manager John Kiely let fly over Sunday's defeat to Galway over apparent uncertainty over the structure of the leagues.

It's become a constant theme, led by Waterford manager Derek McGrath who pointed out the anomaly of the 10th best team making league quarter-finals.

On Sunday that anomaly was highlighted by the fact that Offaly, courtesy of two-point win over Kerry, their first of the campaign, earned a shot at Tipp. Hardly the most onerous task for such reward.

Sweeper redundancy

It changes from week to week but it seems that the trend very much in vogue for the last two seasons is on the wane.

Wexford used Shaun Murphy in the role effectively while Dublin deployed it too from time to time, but Cork and Clare didn't touch it while Waterford were more relaxed about its implementation.

Eoghan O’Donnell
Eoghan O’Donnell

Dublin's full-back jewel

Dublin have their foot on the trapdoor to Division 1B but Eoghan O'Donnell has emerged as a full-back of real substance in this campaign. Defensively, Dublin should be able to compare well with most this summer.

Eyesore of the hurling ruck

We can't point to any particular statistic, except to say they are becoming more noticeable and prolonged. The more congested midfield area contributes obviously, as does the complete absence from a ground-stroke in the game these days, but so too does the quality of pitches in February and early March.

TJ Reid's influence

No forward continues to influence a team as TJ Reid does with Kilkenny. Last year he contributed 54pc of the Cats' five-game Division 1A total; this year his 3-39 from their 5-85, 1-11 from play, works out at 48 pc. No one comes close to those figures.

Irish Independent

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